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Read the Digital Room

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A student watches an video in an online course
Read the Digital Room

Today, I want to talk about a challenge many educators are facing: transitioning beloved face-to-face course content into the digital realm. It's like moving from a cozy, familiar home to a new, high-tech apartment. Exciting, yes, but also filled with its own set of challenges.

Challenge 1: Keeping the Personal Touch

First up, is the challenge of maintaining the personal connection. In a physical classroom, it's easy to read the room, engage in spontaneous discussions, and offer immediate, personalized feedback. Online, though? That can be tricky. When I think about the courses I've taken that have been most engaging, they were the ones where my instructors were not only present, but they were actively interested in knowing me and the other students in the course and sharing about themselves. They posted frequent announcements and commented in discussion boards. They shared details about themselves and asked questions about their students' lives and experiences.

A woman does work in an online course
Learning is a social event

Challenge 2: Active Learning vs. Passive Watching

Next, there’s the challenge of creating opportunities for active learning. Ever caught yourself mindlessly scrolling through text or zoning out during a video lecture? I've had courses where there was no interactivity, where all content was delivered as readings or videos. It was no different than a correspondence course. Read a book, watch a video, take a test. In contrast, I've also taken some courses with a high degree of interactivity. There were checkpoints where I could test my understanding, and assignments that were creative and allowed me to practice the lessons I was learning. There were activities with my peers, such as reviews and group discussions or projects.

Challenge 3: Assessments and Feedback

Assessing students online is another hurdle. Traditional exams don’t always translate well digitally, and many don't do a great job of assessing learning anyway. But projects take a lot of time to grade. In a traditional course, a final project might be delivered in a presentation to the course with immediate feedback. In an online course, immediacy is almost impossible to achieve in an asynchronous course. The instructors I've had that have been most successful in this have been great at communicating when they were going to be grading assignments and great at giving personal feedback.

Challenge 4: Keeping Content Organized

Organizing content online is a whole different ball game. In a classroom, you have your physical space and presence. Online, you need a digital equivalent. In a physical space, instructors often sort the space and its contents with layout choices. Bins for handouts, shelves for texts, desk layout for group work, etc. In a digital classroom, the same thing can be achieved with design options for things like structure and fonts, colors of navigation elements, images and other visual cues, such as icons. Great textbooks use these same elements to help keep things organized.

A student studies from a textbook
Good design is good everywhere

Challenge 5: Technical Skills and Support

Lastly, there is a technical learning curve. Not everyone is a digital native. Providing resources and support for both educators and students to navigate these tools is crucial. Quick how-to guides or tutorial sessions on using these digital tools can work wonders in smoothing out the transition. But more importantly, the best instructors I've encountered have always shown that tech hiccups happen to us all, and it's always acceptable to ask for help.


Moving classes online is challenging, but it's also an adventure. I've mentioned some big hurdles – like keeping things personal, making sure learning isn't just a passive watch party, giving feedback that matters, setting up a digital classroom to be user-friendly, and getting over those tech hiccups. I've taken my share of successful online courses, so I know it's possible. Not only that, some of my online courses have been the best overall courses I've ever taken.

Two children hold tablets displaying their portraits over their face
Digital people are people, too!

That key is mixing good teaching strategies with good tech and keeping that human connection strong. The best online instructors embrace this digital shift with open arms and a can-do attitude. Online classrooms can be just as lively and engaging as traditional ones. In the end, it's not about the platform, but the people. Here's to creating memorable online learning experiences together!


All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix.

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1 Comment

Dec 12, 2023

As always, interesting topic. Hope there will be future podcast in “how” to produce content that ignites lively discussion.

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